Shelby Dade Foote, Jr. (17 November 1916 – 27 June 2005) was an author and historian of the American Civil War. A native of Greenville, Mississippi, Foote left college early to enlist in the US Army in 1940. [A question here--if he was born in 1916, he wold have been24 in 1940. Did he go to college later than most kids?] After the war he worked as a journalist, and wrote historical fiction, before becoming a historian specialising in the Civil War period. He wrote a 3000 page three volume history, and became well known to the public from his appearance in Ken Burns' documentary series The Civil War (1990).
- The point I would make is that the novelist and the historian are seeking the same thing: the truth — not a different truth: the same truth — only they reach it, or try to reach it, by different routes. Whether the event took place in a world now gone to dust, preserved by documents and evaluated by scholarship, or in the imagination, preserved by memory and distilled by the creative process, they both want to tell us how it was: to re-create it, by their separate methods, and make it live again in the world around them.
- Shelby Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (1958; reprint, New York: Vintage, 1986), 815. ISBN 0-394-74623-6.
- A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. The library is the university.
- Shelby Foote quoted in: North Carolina Libraries, Vol. 51-54 (1993), p. 162
Interviewed in the documentary series The Civil War, 1990
- Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.
- Before the war, it was said 'the United States are' - grammatically it was spoken that way and thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war it was always 'the United States is', as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that sums up what the war accomplished. It made us an 'is'.
Interview for the People Magazine, 1990
- I think what Churchill said about the Civil War was correct: It was the last great romantic war and the first horrendous modern war. It fascinates us because it is still the central event of our history. So many of the questions that still plague us, particularly concerning race relations and the size and power of central government, can be better understood if we see how they arose and how we attempted to solve them.
- When I was a hardworking, pistol-hot writer, I was unknown. Now that I’m a tired old man, they start hollerin’ how good I am. I’m not going to analyze what that all means. I’m just determined not to let it turn my life into something I don’t want it to be.
- There’s nothing better for a writer than to be reluctant to go to bed, anxious to wake up and start again. That’s living. That’s what I felt.
Smithsonian Magazine, August 1996
- Right now I'm thinking a good deal about emancipation. One of our sins was slavery. Another was emancipation. It's a paradox. In theory, emancipation was one of the glories of our democracy-and it was. But the way it was done led to tragedy. Turning four million people loose with no jobs or trades or learning. And then, in 1877, for a few electoral votes, just abandoning them entirely. A huge amount of pain and trouble resulted. Everybody in America is still paying for it.
Interview for the Lexington Herald-Leader, 1997
- I learned to love my country, in two ways. I began to learn the geography of the South-the mountains, the rivers, the valleys. The other thing was the incredible heroism on both sides. It's hard to believe men were as brave as those men were. Somehow sense of honor was stronger than fear. God knows, they felt fear. I would really like it to be stressed that my work helped me to love my country. I hope my work does that for other people, learning both our virtues and our vices.
Interview for the Academy of Achievement, 1999
- The bare bones of my life are almost unbearable. I was born during the First World War. I spent my adolescence in the Depression, and when I came of age, I was involved in the Second World War. That sounds a pretty horrible series of events. They seem perfectly natural to me. I prize the Depression, for instance, because I learned the value of things in the Depression that a way people who don't have to worry about such things never learned to prize it really, I believe. And the Second World War was a wonderful thing to be with. It's now called "the Good War." We usually referred to it as "this damned war." We didn't think of it as a good war. We did believe it was fought in a good cause.
- People make a grievous error thinking that a list of facts is the truth. Facts are just the bare bones out of which truth is made.
- I think making mistakes and discovering them for yourself is of great value.
The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume 1: Fort Sumter to Perryville (1958)
- As a protest against the election of Abraham Lincoln, who had received not a single southern electoral vote, secession was a fact—to be reinforced, if necessary, by the sword. The senator from Mississippi [Jefferson Davis] rose. It was high noon. ...He was going home. ...By nature he was a moderate, with a deep devotion to the Union. ...he reserved secession as a last resort.
- Davis was winning a position as a leader in the Senate. Successor to Calhoun, he had become the spokesman for southern nationalism... not independence but domination from within the Union. This movement had been given impetus by the Mexican War. Up til then the future of the country pointed north and west, but now the needle trembled and suddenly swung south. The treaty signed at Guadalupe Hidalgo brought into the Union a new southwestern domain, seemingly ripe for slavery and the southern way of life: not only Texas down to the Rio Grande, the original strip of contention, but also the vast sun-cooked area that was to become Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, part of Colorado, and California with its new-found gold. Here was room for expansion indeed, with more to follow; for the nationalists looked forward to taking what was left of Mexico, all of Central America down to Panama, and Yucatan and Cuba by extension. Yet the North... had no intention of yielding the reigns. The South would have to fight for this... using States Rights for a spear and the Constitution for a shield. Jefferson Davis, who had formed his troops in a V at Buena Vista and continued the fight with a boot full of blood, took a position, now as then, at the apex of the wedge.
- Interviewed in the documentary series The Civil War (1990)
- Interview for the People Magazine, October 15, 1990, p. 60
- Historian loves his nation, and his nation loves him, Herald-Leader, March 24, 1998.
- Interview for the Academy of Achievement, Washington, D. C. (18 June 1999)